Notes from your friendly neighbourhood information curator

John
John Gushue
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A little over a year ago, I noticed I was reading the word "curated" an awful lot as I kept up with trends on the web. At first, it sounded like a fancy way of saying another word, "edited," or even just "chosen." As in, "That feature included some material that was well curated."

I've actually seen the word recently in plenty of other contexts, from retailing to manufacturing to design. But the web is giving it a new cachet. Part of it is social media, where a platform like Tumblr - which invites users to create virtual scrapbooks of the material they encounter online - gives a great big bear-hug to the curating concept.

Surf's up -

A little over a year ago, I noticed I was reading the word "curated" an awful lot as I kept up with trends on the web. At first, it sounded like a fancy way of saying another word, "edited," or even just "chosen." As in, "That feature included some material that was well curated."

I've actually seen the word recently in plenty of other contexts, from retailing to manufacturing to design. But the web is giving it a new cachet. Part of it is social media, where a platform like Tumblr - which invites users to create virtual scrapbooks of the material they encounter online - gives a great big bear-hug to the curating concept.

Gradually, I've changed my mind about the whole idea of curating. I still think it's a bit of a trendy word, and I wonder what actual curators (the people who choose what we see in museums and art galleries, for instance) make of it.

But here's where I see things moving, and why I think the word is becoming appropriate.

"Editing" itself is a vague kind of word. For some people, it means correcting spelling or grammar. It can also mean reworking, revising and improving text, or assembling a sequence from film or video. In my line of work, of online news, it involves adding value, from background details to video to suggestions for further reading.

This leads to what curating on the web means ... I think. It means managing the vast amount of information that surrounds us - and we all know that pile will never, ever get smaller - and help users make the most of the time they've decided to spend with us.

Years ago, we used to use words like "gatekeeping" to describe what media websites did. That is, they chose what was worthy of making the cut, and what was not.

That's still true, but social media and the evolution of web technologies are offering plenty of opportunities - as well as demands to keep pace.

Let's face it: the volume of information that passes before us can be overwhelming. Then there comes the tangle of trying to locate the information we want or need.

Clay Shirky, an American writer who inherited a name that makes him sound like a character on a show like "Futurama," coined a phrase I quite like. Asked to respond to how to deal with "information overload," he reframed the problem, looking instead at what he called "filter failure."

We expect a lot from search engines like Google. We expect the web to deliver what we want, when we want it, and we want our preferred sites to anticipate what we need before we know it.

Many of us also operate on that very human fallacy: if someone hasn't told it to me by now, it couldn't be that important. In the news business, that fallacy - entrenched among younger adults who never picked up the habit of reading a daily newspaper, for instance - is a killer obstacle.

Thus, the need for curating. Smart, expansive, engaging, informed curating.

As web journalism evolves, expect to see far more than the traditional inverted-pyramid style of storytelling. It's going to have to be much more than that; our audiences are demanding not just the key details (skimming will become more prevalent than ever), but also the choice to delve deeper, if they choose.

Helping that evolution move along will fall to the curators ... and you can count me in that number, as much as I reluctantly take on the trendy description.

Elsewhere this week

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For two years, Google's Map Maker has been changing how we look at the world around us. Google Maps is the dominant online mapping application; this is the tool that anyone can use to customize results. It's powerful, and not complicated.

How teens use phones

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The majority of North American teenagers have a cellphone, or have used one. How do they use it? This presentation by Flowtown will make you think ... and wonder about what's next with the mobile revolution.

John Gushue is an online news editor with CBC News in St. John's. Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Google, Map Maker, North American CBC News

Geographic location: St. John's

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